WASILLA, AK, USA U.S. Army SPC, CO B,1ST BN, 207TH AVIATION, FORT RICHARDSON, AK ZAMBAR MOUNTAIN, IRAQ 01/07/2006
Six months before he died in Iraq, Army National Guard Specialist Jacob E. Melson put on his uniform, stood at the foot of Hatcher Pass and married a girl he met at a local church.
Before that, his mother and sister said Tuesday, Melson was a goofy, funny Valley kid who snowboarded, made his family laugh and was prone to juggle when bored.
A crew chief, Melson didn’t tell his mother, Teresa Melson, much about his job because he didn’t want her to worry. She did anyway, Teresa Melson said. She’s felt numb ever since she learned he was one of four Alaskans killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed Jan. 7 in Iraq. “Since the day he left, I just never thought he would be coming home this way.”
The Melsons are an Alaska family. Jacob, 22, was born at Providence hospital but grew up in the Mat-Su, mainly Wasilla. He was the third of four children and the son of Mark Melson, an Alaska Army National Guard captain.
Described by his family as a smart young man with a knack for technology, Melson attended Colony High School but dropped out and earned his GED in 2001 at the Alaska Military Youth Academy at Camp Carroll.
The family attended the Gospel Outreach Christian Center along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, where Melson met his future wife, Sarah, who is now in the Navy. The two wed on a sunny day in July.
“She left for boot camp a week or two after they got married, and then he left for Iraq,” Teresa Melson said.
Captain Robert Seymour, a helicopter pilot for the Guard, flew with Melson about 18 months ago on an emergency mission near Kotzebue. “He was extremely dedicated,” Seymour said.
Seymour said he and his crew had just dropped off some medical personnel at the airport in Kotzebue when a call came in about a man who had accidentally shot himself and was stuck at a remote cabin outside the hub village.
Local officials asked the Guardsmen to help. “We made two phone calls, jumped in the plane and went back up,” Seymour said.
A short time later they loaded the man into the helicopter to fly him to Kotzebue for treatment. As crew chief, Melson was in charge of the cargo and passengers in the aircraft, and he did an excellent job on the run, Seymour said.
“I had absolute confidence in him,” Seymour said. “He was very professional. … Just his enthusiasm and dedication and work ethic, from the way he maintained the helicopter to how he performed while flying. … He was an outstanding individual.”
Rachel Melson, Jacob’s sister, remembers her brother listening to country and Christian music, playing video games and skateboarding in the Valley. Three days after his death, she searched for the right words to describe him.
“It’s kind of hard to talk about,” she said. “I don’t know. I love him. I’m going to miss him.”